Cultural differences between China and the United States made the perfect start for a photoseries exploring life in San Francisco
When Zhao Qian arrived in San Francisco back in 2014, he immediately felt disorientated. It was a feeling that arose from a combination of jet-lag, a new culture and a sense of being the outsider. He immediately started to detail these experiences in his diary, and it wasn’t long before he transposed those feelings to photography.
“I had the idea for the project after the first week of living in San Francisco,” explains Qian. The Chinese photographer, a runner-up in the graduate series category of this year’s BJP Breakthrough Awards, instinctively felt that the culture clash was a fertile subject for his photoseries.
“Throughout the photographs, keeping a distance from the city I’m living in is part of the idea about Offcut, the edge. When I took photos, I was an outsider to these objects and places. However, it can’t just be about a culture shock,” he says.
“The starting point is exploring the weird feeling about experiencing jet-lag, something that is really universal, and makes people have a deflected cognition or reaction to normal things.”
Qian spent over two years photographing San Francisco and its residents for the project, and says he got to know the United States as he did so. “The characteristic of the States is in every detail of the life,” says Qian. “I can’t explain it.
“At first I followed my curiosity, and combined this with my imagination and daily life to capture these off-kilter photos. In 2016, I started to do the editing to make the project much more logical.”
As a foreigner in the US, Qian sometimes felt that the cultural differences led to him walking through the streets in a slight haze: certain things didn’t match up between expectations and reality. This sense of recognising and rejecting is something he hopes to communicate through Offcut, the edge.
“I hope the project can make the audience feel like they walking through a cloud of mist,” he says. “The central theme is the context of storytelling about San Francisco. In this project, it has a fog.”